I wasn’t even going to write this. I’m currently walking on the treadmill with music filling my ears because I just can’t seem to sit still lately. Every time I sit still, even just for a moment, my legs start twitching so my brain doesn’t explode from all the things I feel so intensely in my mind and heart. I’ve had the song “The King is Among Us” on repeat for over three weeks now, when I was praying intently over the birth of Arabella. When I saw so powerfully the hand of our King over her entrance into this world, my faith was strengthened innumerably. Instead of wavering or doubting, my faith just increased because I blatantly saw the goodness of our God and His hand over every portion of that experience.
When I look back to 13 months ago, my life flashed before my eyes as I raced to evacuate with not much but what I could carry in my hands and watched my entire childhood town and community rise up together to face the rubble of a nasty storm, depleted landscapes and livelihoods. I never even really cried myself through that, because it was one of those experiences that my strength increased and the entire community stood on each other’s shoulders to be victorious over such devastation. Every day since, I’ll see certain people and there is still a look in so many eyes that says, “That was a once in a lifetime experience.”
Yet here we are, getting a double heaping serving of 1400+ degree burned landscape and homes paired with a fine reserve glass of what seems to be a now-common beverage of ash. Washington is loudly and proudly wearing a limited edition recurring seasonal scent of smoky cedar + charred pine needle perfume. I’m shaking my head in near disbelief even writing this, but here I am and here is real life:
I haven’t been in my own home in what feels like a month. It’s been a month of travel for work, unexpected evacuation phone calls that seemed to come one after another of life being in the air. And in between those phone calls, it was texts and phone calls of “she’s having contractions” to “she’s feeling better” of waiting for my stubborn little nephew to make his arrival into this world. The little guy has been holding out strong and just seems to be perfectly content inside his mommy. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to come out either!
It’s been week after week of being in limbo. Week after week of waiting. It’s almost like we’ve been in a marathon, a tournament, whatever you want to call it. A constant waiting game.
And then I realized: that’s what just about everyone in NCW is currently feeling. I never in my lifetime thought I would go through what last year’s Carlton Complex fire held a 2nd time. I never thought I would get the call again from my mom saying, “We barely made it through the wall of flames that surrounded the car. I was driving 90mph to get away from it but it just kept chasing us.”
The eerie almost-black orange sunsets where the sun looks like a giant orange gumball seated in the sky. The inch-thick ash covered dashboards that are pointless to clean because it’ll just come back an hour later. The phone call after phone call from people saying, “_______ lost their home.” “______ left with the clothes on their back and came back to debris.”
The landline phone call that says, “Internet and cell service is out. Don’t call or text because we won’t get it.”
The random text that says, “We’re at __________ getting them generators and water so they can live.”
Towns are abandoned and streams of cars race down the Methow Valley to save their lives, while those wearing yellow and green stay behind to risk their lives.
Streets are empty as smoke settles in the empty parking spots and flames come roaring over mountains without fear.
Stoplights become four way stops when the power goes out and people are racing to the only open stores to purchase the remaining generators.
News stations come from near and far to document the flames and you, who you never thought would be on the news suddenly becomes a spotlight story.
The things that you once valued quickly lose their worth when you realize how easily those monetary things can be replaced, where those you love cannot.
Evacuating and levels of evacuation become a part of common conversation.
Packing things up, not knowing what you’ll return to is suddenly a common thing. And you find yourself saying the same phrase over and over, “This never happened growing up.”
Stores open their doors the day they’re allowed to, to offer a meal to anyone.
Strangers give each other hugs and form a friendship that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
And homes, whether beneath our feet or above our heads, hold memories and have a story that can never be replaced. Because stories and words and relationships hold far more value than possessions carried in our hands.
I never in my entire life anticipated what happened in 2014 to come back with a vengeance in 2015. Because 2014 was like hell met earth and 2015 it decided to come back again.
It’s been day after day of falling to my knees in trust. Of falling to my knees in weakness to lift up my arms and say, “Even still, you are good.”
And today, when I decided to finally eat and get myself food…(because you know, stress depletes appetites), I opened the cereal cupboard while on the phone when words I never wanted to hear came through the receiver. When the words came through, it was like everything stopped around me, yet I was spinning. Spiraling.
_________ didn’t make it.
Reality hit real quick when there was a name. And not just one, but several. That’s when I realized what so many people have been facing and what the individuals dressed in green and yellow are up against isn’t just a wall of flames, but against a powerful storm so strong that can take lives. Their lives are so special, so valuable, so irreplaceable. And we are so thankful for their willingness to fight. Something so hot, so fierce and so mighty. It’s when I realized that’s exactly what the enemy seeks to do. The enemy seeks to steal, kill and destroy.
But I refuse to believe that he will ever win. Because the power of Jesus Christ is beyond all compare. He has the power to blot out flames and make mountains out of mole hills. He can plant new grass and send out angels who cry out from heaven with a cleansing rain that can renew, replenish, and restore.
Because we serve a King who is making all things new. We serve a King who proclaims freedom to the captives and a King who heals us in the waiting. So in this waiting game of not knowing who’s house is standing today, and may be gone tomorrow, a stubborn nephew who is going to make his beautiful debut, and the fear of lives being lost in a storm that is out of our control, I’m lifting up my hands in hope of a Holy Spirit revival. I’m lifting up my hands that have such little control to a King who controls it all.
I’m lifting it up to a King who isn’t surprised by anything, but expects everything, and to a King who promises in His very word to make beauty out of ashes. So many can say without flinching that 2014’s Carlton Complex fire was pivotal, and I know that 2015’s conglomeration of flames will be even more so.
Isaiah 45:6-7 says, “That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
Yet following those very words, Isaiah 61:3 says, “To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”
Today, if you see someone dressed in green and yellow, fighting to save what you have built, tell them thank you. And tell them they are so valued.
There is beauty in community. There is strength in numbers. He promises that wherever two or more or gathered, He is there. (Matthew 18:20). Our little Washington communities will be stronger together for the name of Jesus.
And right now as these words are pouring into this little white box, these very words are filling my ears, flooding into my heart:
Pours down like rain
Flooding my walls till I break
Till I break
I give my life to you
My heart to you
You’re all I need
Come and make me new
Lord, help me hear Your voice
There above the noise
For Your presence my soul cries
And out of the ashes
You will lift me up
You restore my life
With Your wonderful love
Through all these tears
You will make me new
And restore my heart
With songs of praise to You
Out of the ashes
God, for You alone I live
And all for You I’d die
I won’t turn to something else
For only You can satisfy
And You shout out my name
Through the tears and the pain
You are the light to my eyes
You give beauty for ashes
Glory for pain
Gladness for mourning
And joy for shame
For You I give everything
He is working in our waiting. And while we wait, wait for something beautiful, because our King is coming, and our King has already won. So when the waiting game is finished, we will be given a crown of beauty for ashes and be seated at the right hand of the King who wears the Victor’s crown.